Tony Scott’s “Agent Orange” (2004)

In the mid-2000’s, branded content was beginning to take off as a viable alternative to traditional advertising.  As such, it became embraced by companies with unconventional origins and attitudes, namely those who came of age in the dotcom bubble.  Amazon.com is just such a company, and in 2004, it contracted Tony Scott to direct AGENT ORANGE, an experimental short film about finding your soulmate amidst the clutter and congestion of daily life.

The story is pretty simple: boy takes the subway everyday.  The boy is always dressed in orange, in stark contrast with the green world around him.  One day, he spots a girl also clad from head to toe in orange.  He catches only a glimpse of her before the subway doors close, but he’s immediately struck by her.  He spends his days afterwards looking feverishly for this girl, hoping to be reunited with her and get their love story started.

Scott works with new Director of Photography Stephen St. John, but his visual aesthetic doesn’t change one iota.  The image drips with heavy contrast, and extremely saturated colors that favor the green and orange spectrum of light.  Seeing as they are complementary colors, the juxtaposition works incredibly well, and the orange pops vividly against the sea of green.  The camerawork is frenetic, pulling in close for detailed shots of faces, hands, objects, etc.  The stylized editing also throws in double exposures, light streaks, and flash frames.  The result is a hyper-active, ADD-laden acid trip of a love story.  I think it works fine within the context of the narrative and its themes, but its very easy to see how it could turn a lot of people off.

Scott is a big proponent of experimental sound design, evident even in his earliest work, ONE OF THE MISSING (1969).  Here, he creates a surreal sound bed that utilizes traditional coal-powered train sounds in place of the electronic whine of modern subway cars.  The recurring train horn is abrasive, but so is Scott’s style in general, so it’s somewhat trivial to criticize it.

My personal impression of the film is that it was dated even on the day of its release.  By this point, Scott was an old man, and the production design very much betrays the sense of what an old man might consider stylish and edgy.  It rang false to me, and resembled more of an out-of-touch student film than a work by one of cinema’s inarguably edgy directors.  Even that name, AGENT ORANGE… it’s so self-aware and lazy, yet desperate to seem to hip and contemporary.  As you might be able to surmise, I’m not the most ardent supporter of this film.

AGENT ORANGE is another negative notch in a wildly uneven filmography.  I don’t fault Scott for shooting it in his trademark style, but funnily enough, it’s also complacent and tired.  It’s as if Scott didn’t feel the need to challenge himself at all.  If anything, AGENT ORANGE is the result of Scott simply treading water between feature films.

AGENT ORANGE is available in its entirety on Youtube, via the embed above.